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GhettoPhysics -- Film Review

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The power games that keep the world spinning, from the streets to the halls of government, come down to two intertwined roles: the pimp and the whore. That's the undeniably elucidating thesis of "GhettoPhysics: Will the Real Pimps and Ho's Please Stand Up!" a lumpy but energized docudrama mashup based on the book by co-director E. Raymond Brown.

Here, he's working with William Arntz, one of the helmers of "What the Bleep Do We Know!?" -- and though the subject this time around isn't quantum physics, a vein of create-your-own-reality New Age positivity runs through the film. What saves it from starry-eyed fuzziness and grounds it in sociopolitical reality is Brown's clear-sighted anger and the astute perceptions of talking heads including Cornel West, Ice-T and Norman Lear. Opening Friday in five markets before its Oct. 22 bow in Los Angeles and New York, the film is a niche item with the potential to entice a young audience beyond the usual art house crowd.

Brown appears onscreen as the Professor of GhettoPhysics, hectoring his college students as he breaks it down for them, distilling the dynamics of power relationships and much of human behavior to a pimp/ho yin-yang: leaders and citizens, employers and workers, creditors and debtors -- through the ages, around the globe and across social strata.

What at first feels oversimplified and obvious accumulates force and hits more than a few nerves, particularly as a critique of capitalism; a look at who has been bailed out in the sinking economy leaves no doubt that it pays to be the one working the game and not the one providing the labor that keeps it running. Brown's philosophy is reasoned and resilient; pimp archetypes range from the degenerate (Hitler) to the benevolent and visionary (Gandhi). Good guys, too, can work the game.

The presentation of ideas is another matter. Although the professor's back-and-forth with his students -- in particular the assertive law-school-bound Shaneesh (Sabrina Revelle) -- delivers key ideas, the sequences are stiff and stagy. Awkward play-acting also characterizes fictional media interviews with the professor. Archival clips and playful interstitial animation offer relief from the classroom shtick, and a couple of mock animated commercials are especially effective.

But it's the talking heads who make this syllabus engrossing, the most compelling of whom, hip-hop performer/producer KRS-One, is engaging, discerning and passionate. Real-life pimps and prostitutes also are in the mix -- one of whom offers a shout-out to some of her best customers, the LAPD.

Very much a lesson, and a repetitive and uneven one at that, "GhettoPhysics" succeeds at least as a conversation starter. Beyond the clunky dramatizations and hazy solutions is a very real understanding of the street as a microcosm of a world in crisis.

Opens: Friday, Oct. 8 (Samuel Goldwyn Films)
Production: A Captured Light Films and Samuel Goldwyn Films presentation
Cast: E. Raymond Brown, Sabrina Revelle, Shang, Mike Foy, Kristy Lewis
Screenwriter-directors: William H. Arntz, E. Raymond Brown
Producers: William H. Arntz, E. Raymond Brown, Scott Altomare
Executive producers: Cedra Stokes, Carl Stokes
Director of photography: David Bridges
Production designer: Elvis Strange
Music: Ryan Demarre, E. Raymond Brown, Jamahl Harris, Akil the MC
Editors: William H. Arntz, Joel Plotch
Rated R, 94 minutes